Decomposing Organisms – Concept, types and examples

We explain what decomposing organisms are and the types that exist. Also, its ecological importance and some examples.

Decomposing organisms - dung beetle
Decomposers occupy the bottom rung of the food chain.

What are decomposing organisms?

Decomposing organisms are all those heterotrophic living beings, whose main source of sustenance is organic matter in a state of decomposition, which help reduce usable components to their minimum (decomposition). Decomposers occupy the bottom rung of the food chain, guaranteeing nutrients and fertilizers to primary producers.

Decomposition is a common and important process in the life cycle, and it is what follows death, whether total (a complete individual) or partial (parts, remains or members of an individual). It is carried out by a diverse community of decomposing organisms, which they range from microscopic beings to scavengers, passing through numerous species of fungi.

Types of decomposing organisms

Decomposing organisms
Detritivores feed on the bodily remains of other organisms.

Depending on the type of decomposing organic matter that they feed on, we can speak of three fundamental types of decomposing organisms, which are:

  • Detritivores or detritophages. This is the name given to organisms that feed on detritus, that is, on the bodily remains of other organisms, such as plant residues (dry leaves, decomposing fruits, withered flowers, etc.). All this organic material falls to the soil from the different ecosystems, forming when it decomposes a layer of decomposing organic matter called humus.
  • Dungs. These are the decomposing organisms that feed on the feces of other more complex organisms, that is, their excrement. There they find usable organic matter that other animals cannot digest or that they did not fully digest, taking advantage of what has already been used in the first instance.
  • Ghouls In this category we have those decomposers that feed on corpses, that is, on the body of dead organisms. Once life has ceased, different microorganisms begin a digestion of organic matter, later aided by insects, scavengers and other organisms that eat the body or that destroy the remains of the hunt of other larger animals.

Ecological importance of decomposing organisms

The decomposers are vital organisms for the energy transmission circuit and matter in all ecosystems. They are the guarantors of the total use of biological resources, decomposing organic matter into more basic and elemental substances, increasingly close to those necessary for the flourishing of producer or primary organisms (such as plants).

Without them, the decomposition of matter would be a much more prolonged and laborious process, especially in the case of those final predators that are not usually preyed upon by anyone.

Examples of decomposing organisms

Decomposing organisms - bacteria
Bacteria are the first activated decomposition front of matter.

Some examples of decomposing organisms are:

  • The bacteria. A true fauna of heterotrophic microorganisms makes life in the intestines of animals and freely in nature. When life has ceased, they are the first activated decomposition front of matter, fermenting, oxidizing and consuming tissues.
  • Most of the mushrooms. Saprophytic (non-parasitic) living fungi tend to grow in places rich in moisture and decaying organic matter, such as the floor of a deciduous forest or the paint in a bathroom with poor ventilation. There they chemically break down matter to obtain energy and nutrients with which to grow and reproduce.
  • Earthworms. The various species of earthworms in existence lead a blind existence underground, tunneling as they go, feeding on organic matter in its last stages of decomposition.
  • Insect larvae. Various insects, especially flies, lay their eggs on corpses or other decomposing organic waste, to take advantage of organic matter as a food source for their larvae. These are the worms that appear to dead animals and devour them from within, preparing for the metamorphosis that will lead them to adulthood.
  • Dung insects. Other insects, such as the various “dung” beetles (Scarabaeus viettei and Scarabaeus laticollis, generally) take advantage of the defecations of various mammals, making small balls that they bury to form a warm nest suitable for their eggs.